Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Business Schools Program

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I had always wanted to visit Trinidad and experience its vibrant culture that is the most anthropologically studied in the world. The reason for anthropologists’ interest is the cultural mix of peoples from Africa, Lebanon / Syria, India, Europe, Indonesia, Malaysia and others that have collectively produced a free, tolerant and dynamic country. The anthropologists were curious to know why and how Trinidad was able to successfully blend in to a politically stable nation with an effective school system and fairly high standard of living. Huge gas and oil deposits helped.

Best of all, the able and dear Norma Hamlet, and her remarkable Port-of-Spain counterpart Gia Gaspard Taylor, a magician at getting things done well, made for a terrific team and joy to work with. We immediately began planning for the Port-of-Spain – Atlanta Committee to set a date and prepare to host a group of North Atlanta IBP students to help install the IBP in Port-of-Spain high schools. A major goal was to provide students with opportunities

I salute the spirit of Gia Gaspard – Taylor, Norma Hamlet, businessman William Latchman, and former Mayor John Rahael for strengthening the sister cities bond, and for transporting the IBP to Port-of-Spain. In recent years, Gia also coordinated the International Education and Resource Network program in Trinidad. Ed Gragert and his visionary team founded IEARN when the internet became a learning tool and has been the leader in globally / electronically connecting and engaging students in innovative internet joint projects ever since. From 2005 – 2008, Gia and I connected my Geography students at Etowah High School in Woodstock, Georgia, through a common web site to collaborate with Port-of-Spain students on discussing various issues of the day.

Bishop Anstey College in Port-of-Spain served as a primary meeting place each day for students living with host students and their families.

The first thing we did upon disembarking in Port-of Spain was to head straight for Maracas Bay Beach, a beautiful family spot ringed by low, green mountains. It is a tradition for people bathing at Maracas Bay to eat a fish sandwich called Bake and Shark. However the tides are very strong, unpredictable, even treacherous. NAHS student James West, in Trinidad just two hours, was caught in a riptide and dragged out deeper and deeper. Fortunately, a vigilant lifeguard caught sight of James struggling and quickly rescued him.

As the lifeguard helped James out of the water, I thought about how I almost had to call James’ mother and tell Mrs. West that her son had drowned after only two hours after his plane had landed. Given the twenty-five exchanges in fourteen years that I was involved in, that was the closest I came to a tragic student incident. God watched over me and my students as virtually marched across the world.

Gia Gaspard Taylor and William Latchman moved heaven and earth for our exchange group – the itinerary / program was superb and facilitated with precision-like quality. My students met with government leaders, successful business and professional people, were treated to many fabulous cultural experiences, and treated like V. I. P’s wherever they went. It was a fantastic learning experience for my students and I am sure that they still cherish their memories from a perfect nine days.

NAHS students enjoying lunch at Veni Mange as guests of U.S. Embassy Chief. David Rudder, one of Trinidad’s greatest Calypso singers, walked in while we were eating, shook the students’ hands, and welcomed them to Trinidad.

Tommy Binner and James West sign the City Hall Guest Book as Mayor Rahael and Paula Robinson look on.

Mrs. Gaspard – Taylor and Mrs. Norma Hamlet in a meeting with the Fire Chief Lenox Alston to discuss Atlanta and Port-of-Spain sharing best fire fighting practices and technology applications.

Trinidad’s first Prime Minister, Eric Williams, was a socialist and disdained Port-of-Spain becoming a tourist city. Trinidad’s well being was to be a country of professionals and workers doing “honest labor” not waiters, maids, cooks and clerks – which is honest labor too. Port-of-Spain has developed into a vibrant and lovely city to live, work, and play in – just like Atlanta – not a major tourist destination city either. Tobago, in comparison, with its many beaches, hotels, significant tourist industry, is almost another country.

One of our top goals on the Business Agenda was hiring Kambyn Miller to produce batik shades to cover the Warrior Warehouse’s window panels. I apologize to Kambyn Miller by previously referring to her (in earlier web pages) as Kristin Miller.

The six panels that Kambyn created far exceeded our expectations regarding beauty and adaptability – the bonus was that they were a gorgeous work of art.

Trinidad is an oil and natural gas rich country which has helped spawn a sizable middle class. Trinidad is similar to Jamaica but blessed with more natural and financial resources. Gia chaperoned the North Atlanta delegation on a tour of the country’s interior and the Atlantic LNG Company and plant in southern Trinidad.

The week we visited – one week before Carnival - may be the best time of the year to visit Port-of-Spain. The city, buzzing with everybody getting ready for the annual fabulous week long celebration, still functions. Each night the pan yards are filled with bands practicing to get ready to compete for the public’s affection and prizes. The steel bands enthrall huge throngs of music lovers in happy pockets all over the city. We attended a pre-Carnival concert, a “battle of steel bands (steelpan)”, calypso acts and a great time for all.

Our last and most important aim for our Trinidad business agenda was to organize a small market of arts & crafts artisans for the NAHS IBP to select / buy product to take back home to sell in the school store and e-catalog.. The list of below products that we bought proved to be very popular and sold out fairly quickly.

The IBP / ACTCo buying team met with a consortium of artisans on Saturday, Feb. 14, 1998, at St. Mary’s College in a conference room. We were presented with the wares of nine artists – the products that we selected are recorded below.

The NAHS students returned home from a memorable learning experience and, as required, constructed a web page that documented their Trinidad objectives and itinerary.

A few days later, a fax from Kambyn Miller arrived. She informed me that the batik window shades were completed and she would Fed Ex them to Atlanta.

North Atlanta, Trindadian, and Jamaican students have always gotten along famously but the First Trans-Caribbean Exchange was special.

Sheldon Trim (Port-of-Spain) and Amy Patel (Atlanta) posing for picture during lunch at Planet Hollywood in downtown Atlanta.

I wish to also express a special thanks to the School of the Arts music instructors who over the years performed on short notice from IBP requests to entertain visiting exchange groups with concerts and dance recitals. Mr. Lynn Thompson, former North Atlanta Orchestra Director, was particularly generous and gracious when asked.

I became a member of every sister city committee that I organized a student exchange with – seven to date.

The “Future Belongs to the Innovators” exchange invitation outlined another excellent itinerary – a veritable “Who’s Who of POS - Trinidad” had been enlisted to enlighten the students.

There is an old saying; “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Gia Gaspard Taylor chaired United Nations, Sister Cities, Peoples of the Americas, and business education programs in Trinidad. She anchored the Port-of-Spain – Atlanta Sister City Committee and adapted the IBP in five secondary schools. Gia worked with young girls struggling to obtain business and work skills needed to make a decent life for them selves – she amazed me with the many hats she so ably juggled. And that included a fabulous student exchange that she organized for North Atlanta Feb. 6 – 15, 1998 that introduced us to the leaders and shakers of Port-of-Spain and Trinidad. Gia brought 8 students to Super-Exchange V. The woman is a saint.

So it was with a happy heart that I and my North Atlanta students returned to Trinidad. Michael Willis and his young Montego Bay High ladies were visiting Port-of-Spain for the first time and were thrilled to experience another Caribbean country. Blythe Clear and her student group, from the Turks and Caicos Islands, felt exactly like the Jamaicans. Toomas Saals and Maia Oblikas arrived first with their Mainor School delegation and were ecstatic to be escaping their worst winter month to explore the charms of sunny and beautiful Trinidad.

Gia lined up a great itinerary as usual, the friendly Port-of-Spain host schools and families welcomed us in to their homes and the exchange got off to a wonderful start. The Super-Exchange formula of 70% education and 30% recreation was working its usual magic.

There is another old saying; “Murphy’s Law - whatever can go wrong will.” Suddenly, major sponsors experienced serious problems and had to cancel. Organizations that strongly supported the exchange developed pressing concerns that had to be dealt with immediately. Most unfortunately, the itinerary began collapsing with too much free time for teenagers happening. On Thursday, Feb. 12, the chaperones requested a meeting to discuss concerns.

My heart ached for Gia as she explained about the breakdown of support, and that she had been working so hard to come up with substitute learning opportunities that communication had suffered. Sadly too, all new initiatives seemed to go nowhere. We all gave her a hug, told her we loved her, and that we would all pull together to finish the exchange in fine fashion. The rest of the itinerary was excellent, the farewell parties were a lot of fun and hugs - the program ended on a high note. Maia Oblikas, former Director of the Mainor School, was known for another old saying; “All’s well that ends well. “

Cities, in their search for new markets, employ sister cities programs for economic development purposes and international branding.

For more information about Trinidad, please access www.arnoldheller.org/Super-ExchangeV and SEV Part 2.